Farmer’s Problems • Due to overproduction caused by numerous farms and better methods farm prices plummeted. • The price of wheat fell from $2.00 a bushel in 1867 to $0.68 a bushel in 1887. • Farmer’s incomes fell greatly. Farmer’s Problems • The removal of greenbacks (paper dollars not backed by gold or silver) from the economy after the Civil War led to inflation. • This meant that the money left in circulation (tied to the gold standard) became more valuable. • So why is that a problem? Farmer’s Problems • Debt – Farmers had mortgaged their farms to make ends meet when farm prices fell. The removal of greenbacks meant that farm prices would fall even more and that the farmers would have to pay their debts, dollar for dollar, using money that was far more valuable than the money they originally borrowed. Farmer’s Problems • Railroads had a monopoly on the shipment of farm products from the west to markets in the east (where most people lived). • Railroads engaged in price gouging, charging artificially high prices because farmers had no other transportation options. • This forced farmers into even more debt but made tremendous profits for the railroads. Oliver Hudson Kelley • Farmers began work together to support one another. • Kelley’s Patrons of Husbandry was founded to provide a social outlet and educational forum for rural farmers. • Over time, the Grange, became a political organization that represented the interests of rural farmers in state governments. The Grange • Accomplishments of the Grange included the passage of Granger Laws. • These were state laws in the Midwest, West, and Southeast that set maximum railroad rates in those states. • Railroad companies fought these laws in court. They argued it was unconstitutional for any government to regulate business enterprises. • In Munn v. Illinois (1877) the United States Supreme Court ruled that granger laws were in fact constitutional further establishing the right of the government to regulate commerce. The Populist Party • By 1892 the economic troubles of farmers had become widely known. Industrial laborers experienced similar struggles and a nationwide political movement began to emerge. • This political uprising of common Americans became known as Populism and it led to the creation of the Populist Party. • The party was made of Western and Southeastern farmers and Northeastern and Midwestern industrial workers. • The parties candidates began to win state and local elections and soon candidates started running for national offices (Congress). Populist Party Platform • Eight Hour Workday • Federal Government Regulation of Railroads • Increase in the money supply to create inflation (rise in farm prices). • Immigration restrictions. • Secret Ballot. • Direct Election of U.S. Senators • One term limit for President. “Gold Bugs” • Bankers and Businessmen. • Wanted to keep U.S. on the gold standard which would keep the value of the dollar high. • Loans would be repaid in stable money. • This would lead to less money in circulation and deflation (falling prices). • Fewer people would have money and the wealth of those that did (bankers and businessmen) would increase. “Silverites” • Farmers and Laborers. • Bimetallism – silver and gold coinage. This would decrease the value of the dollar and prices for farm goods would rise. • Farmers profits would increase and they could pay back loans with dollars that were actually equal in value to the dollars they had originally borrowed before greenbacks were taken out of circulation. • Wealth would be more evenly distributed across all tiers of society. William Jennings Bryan • Former Nebraska Congressman and editor of the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. • Considered the patron saint of lost causes due to the fact that he let his beliefs, not politics, guide his actions. • Bryan was a Democrat and won the parties nomination for president in 1896. • Bryan’s stance on the gold coinage issue led the Populist Party to nominate him as their candidate as well. “Cross of Gold” “Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” William Jennings Bryan, Democratic Convention speech, Chicago, July 8, 1896. William McKinley • Former Congressman and Governor of Ohio. • Civil War veteran. • Republican nominee for president in 1896. • Supporter of the gold standard. • Very popular within the Republican Party and in his home state of Ohio. Also popular in Washington D.C. • Had millions of dollars in his campaign fund. Election of 1896 Election of 1896 The End of Populism? • The election of 1896 did spell the end of the Populist Party but not necessarily the end of the idea of populism. • Two important legacies were left by the Populists. 1. A message that even the common man could organize and have a political impact. 2. An agenda of reforms (the Populist Party platform) that would become part of the political debate in the United States. Many of these reforms would be put into law in the 20th century.